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Psychology and Spiritual Formation: Integrating Research and Practice

Sarah Schnitker

A Psychology Course and Syllabus on "Psychology and Spiritual Formation"

Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology
August 1, 2013

This is a course description and syllabus developed from our 2013 course development grant competition. See below for a downloadable syllabus.

This course examines traditional and contemporary practices and modalities of spiritual formation within Christianity. Students will demarcate the components of spiritual formation and explore the psychological systems and processes relevant to the development of a robust spiritual life. The psychological mechanisms underlying specific spiritual disciplines and practices (e.g., prayer, fasting, communion, Sabbath) will be analyzed while also denoting how these practices cannot be reduced to their psychological explanations. Students will read from religious and psychological literatures, and they will learn in a cooperative environment with those with diverse interests in theology and psychology. Students will contribute to the psychological literature by proposing research studies grounded in a deeper understanding of Christian theology, and they will contribute to the life of the church by applying what we know from psychology to better guide spiritual formation in ministry contexts. Finally, students will be challenged to apply the course content to their own spiritual formation.

Click here to download the syllabus for Psychology and Spiritual Formation: Integrating Research and Practice

Course Readings

Calhoun, A.A. (2005). Spiritual disciplines handbook: Practices that transform us. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. $18.00 ISBN 978-0-8308-3330-6

James, W. (2008). The varieties of religious experience: A study in human nature. Retrieved from aspx?direct=true&db=e000xna&AN=313698&site=ehost-live

Spiritual Formation and Psychology: Integrated in the Service of Each Other

Pargament, K.I. (2002). Is religion nothing but…? Explaining religion versus explaining religion away. Psychological Inquiry, 13, 239-244.

Spiritual Formation and Relevant Psychological Processes – Part I: Ritual, Meaning, and Seeking the Sacred

Philippians 3

Emmons, R. A., & Schnitker, S. A. (2013). Gods and goals: Religion and purposeful action. In R. F. Paloutzian and C. L. Park (Eds.), The Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (Vol. 2, pp. 256-273). New York: The Guilford Press.

Lynn, M. L., Naughton, M. J., & VanderVeen, S. (2010). Connecting religion and work: Patterns and influences of work-faith integration. Human Relations, 64, 675-701.

Spiritual Formation and Relevant Psychological Processes – Part II: Relational Growth and Virtue Development

Galatians 5

Leffel, G.M. (2011). Beyond meaning: Spiritual transformation in the paradigm of moral intuitionism. Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, 22, 25-125.

Zahl, B.P., & Gibson, N.J.S. (2012). God representations, attachment to God, and satisfaction with life: A comparison of doctrinal and experiential representations of God in Christian young adults. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 22, 216-230.

Prayer and Confession

James 5:13-20

Calhoun (2005): Contemplation and Journaling (pp. 47-58), Confession (pp. 91-4), Part 7 Prayer (pp. 203-217, 223-253)

Ladd, K.L., & Spilka, B. (2002). Inward, outward, and upward: Cognitive aspects of prayer. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41, 475-484.

Frattaroli, J. (2006). Experimental disclosure and its moderators: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 823-865.

vanOyen Witvliet, C., Hinman, N.G., Exline, J.J., & Brandt, T. (2011). Responding to our own transgressions: An experimental writing study of repentance, offense rumination, self-justification, and distraction. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 30, 223-238.

Fasting and Practices of Self-control

James 3: 1-12

Calhoun (2005): Fasting (pp. 218-222), Control of the Tongue (pp. 186-89), Chastity (pp. 126-8)

McCullough, M. E., & Willoughby, B. L. B. (2009). Religion, self-control, and self-regulation: Associations, explanations, and implications. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 69-93.

Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., & Tice, D. M. (2007). The strength model of self-control. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 396-403.

Laurin, K., Kay, A.C., & Fitzsimons, G.M. (2012). Divergent effects of activating thoughts of God on self-regulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 4-21.

Worship, Celebration, and Gratitude

Luke 17:11-19

Calhoun (2005): Worship (pp. 25-39, 44-6), Appendix 5 (pp. 269-71), Appendix 7 (pp. 276-7)

Froh, J.J., Sefik, W.J., & Emmons, R.A. (2008). Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. Journal of School Psychology, 46, 213-233.

Schimmel, S. (2004). Gratitude in Judaism. In R.A. Emmons & M.E. McCullough (Eds.), The Psychology of Gratitude (pp. 37-57). New York: Oxford University Press.

Niedenthal, P.M., Barsalou, L.W., Winkielman, P., Krauth-Gruber, S., & Ric, F. (2005). Embodiment in attitudes, social perception, and emotion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 9, 184-211.

Stewardship, Service, and Tithing

Matthew 6:19-24

Calhoun (2005): Simplicity (pp. 74-77), Care of Earth (pp. 180-2), Stewardship (pp. 196-9)

Siev, J. (2009). Attitude and behavior in (classic) social psychology and rabbinic thought: Implications for psychology of religion research. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 19, 187-199.

Aronson, E., & Mills, J. (1959). The effect of severity of initiation on liking for a group. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 59, 177-181.

Sabbath, Retreat, and Rest

Leviticus 25

Calhoun (2005): Sabbath (p. 40), Opening to God (pp. 63-73, 78-88), Silence and Solitude (pp. 107-114)

Diddams, M., Surdyk, L.K., & Daniels, D. (2004). Rediscovering models of Sabbath keeping: Implications for psychological well-being. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 32, 3-11.

Spiritual Transformation and Conversion

John 3:1-21 and 4:1-42; Acts 9:1-30

Calhoun (2005): Appendix 10 (pp. 283-9)

James (2008): Lectures 9 and 10

Rambo, L.R. (1993). Models and methods. In L.R. Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion (pp. 5-19). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.